Swing Dance

If you don’t know what Swing Dancing is, this is the page for you. Here I’m going to talk about what Swing dancing is and a little about each of the different dance styles this incorporates. Firstly, swing dancing is generally partner dancing meaning it involves two people, though there are forms which just involve solo work. I’m just going to break this down into easy information to help on your swing journey. I will include a modern example, and where possible a ‘historical’ example to show you what has changed.

Cover image by: Matt Christie, you can find his website here. Used with permission.

Swing dance is an umbrella term, as is Jitterbug. They refer to a bunch of different dance styles which originated between the 1920s-1940s. Swing itself was originally the name for a style of jazz music, and jitterbug referred to the overall style of dancing. However, in more recent times swing dance has come to mean all of the original dances. usually when people say swing dance they mean…

Lindy Hop

Lindy hop is the most common and surviving swing dance worldwide with roots in African-American culture in the 1930s. It’s characteristically a six or eight count beat. This is what you’ll see in most movies set in war-time periods. The most characteristic move is the swing-out, which is an eight count circular rotation of the dancers. It’s a lot more fun that it sounds from that description. However, if you check out Hellzapoppin you may need to realise that Lindy is not that fast anymore for most humans.

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Collegiate Shag

Collegiate shag is danced to a much faster beat for the most part than much lindy hop. usually between 185-200 beats per minutes. It originated in the US during the 1920s and fully spread across the country by the 1930s. Collegiate shag has a different hand hold and general form than lindy hop, with it being much more like ballroom in that respect. Collegiate Shag was the most popular form of Shag dancing with students in the 1930s and 40s, hence its name, though there are other derivatives and forms of shag dancing (which is yet another umbrella term). Carolina and St. Louis Shag also exist which have very different footwork, so the names should not indicate to you what you feet will be doing other than dancing!

Check out @live.collegiate.shag on Instagram and youtube. Her videos are wonderful!

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Blues

Blues is like the sexy older sister to Lindy Hop. It’s a lot slower and more sultry. It tends to be more of a whole body dance than merely moving your feet like Bal or crazy energy. While the dance is slower there is a lot of movement happening, the energy is just far more relaxed than in Lindy. What makes blues the most interesting of Swing dances is that is does not rely upon the partners working together to create a move, but rather becomes a conversation of different improvised parts.

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Solo jazz

Solo jazz is kind of exactly what is says on the tin. it’s jazz dancing and it’s solo. It’s kind of like Charleston but has a lot more variation, and incorporates a lot of tap dance style moves. A lot of well known routines such as the Shim Sham are technically solo jazz too.

Check out Bees’ Knees Dance in Toronto, Ontario where Jasper and Phil teach!

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Balboa

Balboa is another eight count partner dance, which is done pretty much entirely in closed position. No kicks or tricks are allowed. The posture is very upright and the partners are chest to chest, usually aiming for the partners to stay in contact the entire time. It’s a fast dance around 180-320 beats per minutes. Bal swing also exists which has more variation and tricks involved though retains the original framework of the footwork and dance. It originated in the late 1910s-1920s, though enjoyed large popularity in the 1930s-40s.

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Jive

Jive is one of the five international latin dances, which is not something you would think given it is considered part of swing dancing. Generally, it is danced at around 176 beats per minutes. Historically, Lindy hop (litterbug) came to Europe during the second world war by way of American tropes stationed there. The term swing was the umbrella term in the US while Jive became the umbrella term in the UK. Styles such as Boogie-woogie and swing boogie are creations that emerged thanks to variation in technique. Jive eventually became the dominant generic term in the UK.

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Charleston / Lindy Charleston

Charleston is a dance from the 1920s which is generally danced alone. It has a fast pace and is often seen in chorus lines in movies like Busy Malone (buy here) or Chicago (buy here) etc. Another variation, Lindy Charleston, exists which is essentially the same dance but turned into a partner dance. The difference being that the general pulse of the dance is lowered slightly. For these reasons they are both very similar to solo jazz and lindy hop for obvious reasons.

Final note: I am lucky enough to know several of the amazing dancers shown in these videos. They are all incredibly talented! It should be noted that competition dances such as many that I have included may not be indicative of social partner dancing in the real world. We don’t always know our partner or have the space to do these crazy moves. Wherever you are on your swing / dance journey it doesn’t matter, have lots of fun!

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